War ‘at a turning point’, warns Zelenskiy, as UK says conflict ‘massively misjudged’ by Putin

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Russia continued to bomb and launch missile strikes in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, despite promising to reduce military activity in the area after the Ukrainian military rejected Russian promises and preparing for further intense fighting in the east.

In an overnight video address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was witnessing a buildup of Russian forces in the southeast as it prepared for further strikes, while Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 45 buses headed for the beleaguered port city of Mariupol in March. 31 in an attempt to evacuate civilians trapped by weeks of heavy fighting.

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The British Ministry of Defense said on March 31 that Russian troops continued to hold positions east and west of kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units and that “heavy fighting is likely to place in the suburbs of the city in the coming days”.

Separately, a British intelligence chief said demoralized Russian soldiers in Ukraine refused to carry out orders and sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down their own aircraft.

Jeremy Fleming, who heads the electronic spy agency GCHQ, made the remarks during a speech in the Australian capital, Canberra.

He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently “massively misjudged” the invasion.

“It is clear that he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the strength of the coalition that his actions would galvanize. He downplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime and he overestimated the capabilities of his army to secure a quick victory,” said Fleming. noted.

Meanwhile, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters that Putin had been misled by advisers.

“We believe Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about the poor performance of the Russian military and how the Russian economy is crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” he said. Bedingfield said during a press briefing.

In separate video addresses on March 31, Zelenskiy told Australian and Dutch lawmakers that new and stronger sanctions against Russia were needed to step up pressure on Moscow over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. He urged Dutch lawmakers in particular to “stop all trade with Russia”.

Russia told Ukraine on March 29 that it would reduce operations near the capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust” for peace talks after the two sides met face to face in Istanbul.

Talks were due to resume on March 31 via video, according to Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia, although analysts have questioned whether Moscow is sincere in its progress.

“We don’t believe anyone, not a single nice phrase,” Zelenskiy said in a video address to the nation on March 30, adding that he believed Russian troops were regrouping to strike the eastern region of Donbass.

“We won’t give up anything. We will fight for every meter of our territory,” Zelenskiy said, reiterating his call for Western military help.

“If we really fight together for freedom and for the defense of democracy, then we have the right to demand help in this difficult turning point. Tanks, planes, artillery systems. Freedom should not not be armed worse than tyranny,” Zelenskiy said.

On March 31, Zelenskiy told the Australian parliament that new and stronger sanctions against Russia were needed to step up pressure on Moscow over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskiy warned in his video speech that if Russia was not held accountable, other states with “similar aspirations” would follow, threatening the rest of the world.

Ukraine’s president said if Russia had been punished for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the invasion might never have happened.

“If the world had punished Russia in 2014 for what they did, there wouldn’t have been this invasion in Ukraine in 2022,” he said. “Then unpunished evil returns.”

Zelenskiy accused Russia of “nuclear blackmail” and said more needed to be done to hold Moscow accountable.

WATCH: Ukrainian forces have retaken the town of Trostyanets in eastern Ukraine, located just 40 kilometers from the border with Russia.

The Australian government has announced that it will provide an additional $25 million in military support to Ukraine.

“The Australian people stand with Ukraine in your fight for survival,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Zelenskiy. “Yes, you have our prayers but you also have our weapons.”

Australia has already provided defense equipment and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as a ban on exports of alumina and aluminum ores, including bauxite, to Russia.

The additional support will bring Australia’s total military assistance to Ukraine so far to $116 million.

Australia has also imposed a total of 476 sanctions on 443 people, including businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and 33 entities, including most of Russia’s banking sector and all entities responsible for sovereign debt. from the country.

WATCH: Ukrainian forces have liberated the village of Kukhari outside Kyiv. But Russian forces continued to bombard the village with artillery and aircraft.

Earlier, Zelenskiy and US President Joe Biden discussed specific defensive support, a new sanctions package against Russia, and financial and humanitarian assistance in a one hour call.

Biden and Zelenskiy also discussed the critical effect arms supplies have had on the conflict and ongoing efforts to identify additional capabilities to help Ukraine’s military defend the country.

A Pentagon official said not all of the weapons promised by Biden in mid-March have yet been delivered.

Celeste Wallander, deputy secretary of defense, told a congressional hearing that a package including 100 Switchblade kamikaze drones was being delivered.

Wallander said the United States was also working to get countries with Soviet-made S-300 anti-aircraft batteries to send them to Ukraine. One of the countries she has approached is Slovakia, which wants to replace its S-300s with more modern US-made Patriot missile batteries, she said.

A delegation of Ukrainian lawmakers traveled to Washington on March 30 to ask for more US help, saying their country needed more military equipment, more financial aid and tougher sanctions against Russia.

“We need to expel Russian soldiers from our lands, and for that we need all possible weapons,” Ukrainian MP Anastasia Radina told a press conference at the Ukrainian Embassy.

In the nearly five weeks since the start of the invasion, Russian forces have been halted on many fronts by fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a March 31 press conference that Russia was not withdrawing its troops as announced, but rather repositioning them. He said he expected the troop movements to result in “additional offensive actions”.

“According to our intelligence, Russian units are not withdrawing but repositioning. Russia is trying to regroup, resupply and strengthen its offensive in the Donbass region,” in eastern Ukraine, Stoltenberg said. .

“At the same time, Russia is keeping pressure on Kyiv and other cities, so we can expect further offensive actions, bringing even more suffering,” he added.

British military intelligence noted on March 31, Russia continued to bomb and launch missile strikes in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, despite its promise to reduce military activity in the area.

Russian troops continue to hold positions east and west of kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “Heavy fighting is likely to take place in the city’s suburbs in the coming days.”

Heavy fighting continued in the strategic port city of Mariupol, a key target for Russian forces, the ministry said, adding that Ukrainian forces still controlled the city center.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Russia’s promise to scale back operations near Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv was not true.

“All night long we listened to sirens, rocket fire and we heard huge explosions east and north of Kyiv,” Klitschko said in a video address to EU regional officials. “There are huge battles there, people have died, are still dying.”

Russian troops have also stepped up their attacks around the eastern town of Izyum and eastern Donetsk region after redeploying some units from other regions, the Ukrainian side said.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said on March 31 that the Russian and Ukrainian economies will contract by 10% and 20%, respectively, this year, with the war between the two countries causing “the biggest shock of ‘offer’ in half a century. century.

The London-based EBRD is the first international financial institution to update its guidance since the outbreak of war in Ukraine last month.

Prior to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the EBRD predicted growth of 3.5% for Ukraine and 3.0% for Russia.

The latest forecasts “assume that a ceasefire will be negotiated within months, followed shortly thereafter by the start of a major reconstruction effort in Ukraine,” the EBRD said on March 31.

With reports from Current Time, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service, RFE/RL’s Russian service, AP, AFP and Reuters